Customizing std::expected’s exception

Document #: P3014R0
Date: 2023-10-14
Project: Programming Language C++
Audience: LEWG
Reply-to: Jonathan Müller (think-cell)

1 Abstract

We propose a way to customize the exception thrown by std::expected::value(). That way, we can make std::expected more usable in interfaces that want to support both error codes and exceptions.

2 Motivation

[P0260R7] proposes concurrent queues to the C++ standard library. Their operations can fail, so the current design proposes the std::filesystem approach of having two overloads: one that throws, and one that fills a std::error_code parameter. [P2921R0] explores different designs, in particular an approach that uses std::expected:


Status Quo
void push(const T&);
bool push(const T&, error_code& ec);
auto push(const T&) -> expected<void, conqueue_errc>;


Status Quo
std::error_code ec;
if (q.push(5, ec))
println("got {}", ec);
if (auto result = q.push(5))
  println("got {}", result.error());


Status Quo
catch(const conqueue_error& e)
// Awkward use.
q.push(5).or_else([](auto code) {
  throw conqueue_error(code);
catch(const conqueue_error& e)

// Awkward exception type.
catch(const bad_expected_access<conqueue_errc>& e)

We propose a way to customize the exception thrown by std::expected::value() using a new std::expected_traits mechanism. When applied to conqueue_errc, it can result in the following interface.


Status Quo
std::expected, our proposal
catch(const conqueue_error& e)
catch(const conqueue_error& e)

3 Prior Art

The std::expected paper [P0323R12] has a discussion on this in section 3.16, but it was not proposed and has not been seriously discussed in the committee at the time.

4 Proposed design

The new std::expected_traits has a default specialization that throws std::bad_expected_access<E>:

template <typename E>
struct expected_traits
    [[noreturn]] static void throw_error(E e)
        throw std::bad_expected_access<E>(std::move(e));

Code in std::expected that currently throws std::bad_expected_access unconditionally (e.g. .value()), instead calls std::expected_traits::throw_error(error()). As no std::expected_traits specialization exists currently, this is not a breaking change.

User code is allowed to customize std::expected_traits for their own error types, where throw_error() can do whatever is appropriate, as long as it does not return. Crucially, it does not necessarily need to throw, but could also std::abort() the program instead.

5 Alternative design

Alternatively, we could introduce a marker type, let’s call it std::unexpected_exception<E, Exception> and bikeshed later. A std::expected<T, std::unexpected_exception<E, Exception>> behaves just like a std::expected<T, E>, but instead of throwing std::bad_expected_access(error()) it throws Exception(error()).

That way, the exception associated with an error type can be customized on a per-instance basis instead of globally per error type.

6 Open questions

Should std::expected_traits take <T, E> and not <E>?

This could enable a customization based on specific value-error combinations only.

Should the trait be tied to std::expected?

The concept of “exception associated to an error type” seems more general than std::expected. We could add it as something more general, like std::default_error_exception or std::error_traits.

Should the trait be specialized for std::error_code to throw std::system_error?

It would make a lot of sense, but is unfortunately a breaking change. It would work with the alternative design by using std::expected<T, std::expected_error<std::error_code, std::system_error>>.

Should we also customize .error()?

Currently it is UB if there is no stored error. It could instead call something on the traits, so a user can customize it to return an error value that means “ok”.

Should we add something like std::expected::check() as well?

Calling .value() on a std::expected<void, E> as in the example is a bit awkward. Maybe we should have .check() which does nothing if the expected has a value, but calls std::expected_traits<E>::throw_error if it has an error.

7 Acknowledgments

Thanks to JF Bastien and Jonathan Wakely for providing feedback on an initial draft of this paper.

8 References

[P0260R7] Detlef Vollmann, Lawrence Crowl, Chris Mysen, Gor Nishanov. 2023-07-13. C++ Concurrent Queues.
[P0323R12] Vicente Botet, JF Bastien, Jonathan Wakely. 2022-01-07. std::expected.
[P2921R0] Gor Nishanov, Detlef Vollmann. 2023-07-05. Exploring std::expected based API alternatives for buffer_queue.